When big tech companies like Facebook and Google published their analyses of 2014’s biggest topics in early December, there was a lot of overlap. Things like the World Cup, Ebola, and the death of Robin Williams topped every list. Most collections also included Michael Brown, Ferguson, and/or Eric Garner, and one polling firm is ranking it as the most talked about story of the year on Twitter.
The right-leaning analytics group Echelon Insights published a week-by-week guide for what political insiders, conservatives, liberals, and Twitter users overall were talking about most on Twitter in 2014. The analysis also includes top stories of the year for each of those four groups. The firm only looked at political topics, though, and didn’t factor in other big discussions about topics like the Oscars or the World Cup.
Conservative activists and “political insiders” had the fewest number of weeks, five and four respectively, during which Ferguson/Eric Garner was the top topic. Liberal activists and Twitter overall had it as a top topic for seven weeks out of the year. Echelon Insights writes in a blog post:
The intertwined cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner rated as the top story among all users on Twitter this year, followed by the midterm elections, Ebola, the Israel/Gaza war, and Iraq. But the order for political insiders was a bit different, with the midterm elections far and away the most mentioned, followed by Russia and Ukraine, Iraq, Obamacare, and the Ferguson/Garner cases.
Twitter’s 2014 #YearOnTwitter also presents Ferguson as a major topic of the year. In a blog post, the company provides graphs tracking the 18 million Tweets written about Ferguson during August and the 3.5 million tweets from the November grand jury decision. For scale, though, Twitter calculates that 672 million World Cup-related tweets went out over the course of the tournament.
Whether it’s a company’s own year-end analysis or the work of a third-party research firm, it’s difficult to compare results from these reports directly, because social platforms have different user bases and employ different methods in calculating the buzz and impact around a story.
So while we can’t definitively determine which topic was the most shared and searched for in 2014 from these lists, it’s clear that discussions about race were hugely important across the board. Which is a good thing for trying to make progress on one of the United States’ most divisive and deeply unresolved equality issues.